By Festus Adedayo
Traditional Africa had anecdotes and allegories configured to explain autocracy and how autocrats always met their waterloo. One of them is the story of the lion, the king of the jungle, and the tortoise. After years of tearing its animal victims into shreds, its mane soaked in their innocent blood, the lion became too senescent to haunt for games. Stricken with old age, diverse infirmities and unable to put food on his own table, the king decided to get food by subterfuge and trickery. Always by himself and soaked in myriad thoughts and stratagems for many nights and days on what to do, one day a thought sidled into his heart. Excited at its workability, he laughed at himself in a huge roar. His strategy was this; he would pretend to be so infirm that he could not go out hunting, courting the attention of other animals.
Thus, lying prostrate in his den and feigning old age sickness, he got emissaries to broadcast the state of his infirmity round and about the forest. As the message got to them, the animals debated the prospect of visiting him after the debilitating havoc he had wrecked on their peers and forebears. The majority of opinions was, however, that being the king of the jungle and desirous that when they themselves had advanced in age, younger animals would come to pay obeisance, they should, at their convenience pay the king get-well-quick visits.
Thus, one after the other, animals of various hues paid the king a visit in his supposed infirmary. One after the other, the king made a barbecue of their fleshes. While the Yoruba version of that cautionary tale of despots’ wickedness and notice of caution in relating with them says that it was the tortoise, some other African climes say it was the Red Fox – species devoured by lions – who, himself an animal full of guiles, suddenly “borrowed himself brain,” as the Nigerian street lingo says. He then decided to satisfy the majority’s decision to pay the king obeisance and empathetically wish him a quick recovery, but at the same time, decided to be a whiff wiser. So Fox/Tortoise, sensing that though the entrance of many of the beasts into Lion’s den was all that was seen their return was scant, discovered a trick which he decided to spin. He presented himself at a respectful distance from a cave by the hill that led to the den of the King and shouted that he was around. The Lion in turn peeped out queasily and bade him come into the cave. “I am not so well,” the Lion dragged the words like an infirm, “but why do you stand without? Pray, enter within to talk with me”. “No, thank you,” the Fox/Tortoise replied, sarcasm lacing his voice. “I noticed that there are many prints of feet entering your cave, but I see no trace of any returning”.
For traditional Africa, the takeaway from that allegory is simply that, he is wise who is wary of and alerted by the misfortunes of others.
Southern Nigerian members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) most probably haven’t heard of this allegory and the note of caution that laces it. Or they think it is absolute bunkum, a cock and bull story of the Stone Age era that should not detain a modern mind. But how wrong they are! The problem is that it is the beginning of autocracy that is known, not many people live to see its twilight.
If you have been following the spat in the PDP since the conclusion of the party’s presidential primary, it is probably the irritancy of the guttural voice of Rivers state governor, Nyesom Wike, that you will notice. Wike has been shouting from the rooftop since the end of the primary to trumpet his grouses with the emergence of the Wazirin Adamawa, Atiku Abubakar, as the party’s presidential candidate in the 2023 election. Like a blacksmith vociferously hammering a hammer on the hot metal on a singular spot, Wike has drilled down on this allegation of injustice against the south, most times verging on boredom. Critics have accused him of selfishness, asking whether he wasn’t the same person who forced his kinsman, Uche Secondus, to scamper off the chairmanship position of the PDP. And that he superintended over the emergence of Iyorchia Ayu – a man he jolly well knew of his Siamese dalliance with Atiku – as his replacement.
I think those are genuine queries that are within the orbit of genuine criticisms. However, it behoves genuine lovers of the place of justice in society and the quest of the southern part of Nigeria not to play slavish position in the Nigerian polity to let us collectively, as the Yoruba will say, drive away the fox first and then come back to accuse the poultry farmer of carelessly placing his fowls where the Kolokolo – the Fox – would readily have the fowls for supper. The Kolokolo’s cognomen is, an animal that devours both the bone and the meat.
Where to begin to conduct the interrogation of the spat in the PDP is to look at Nigeria’s immediate history. By 1998 when General Sani Abacha suddenly died and Abdulsalami Abubakar took over the mantle of military headship of Nigeria, southern Nigeria had sufficiently, by all means conceivable, alerted the world of northern Nigeria’s unfair hegemonic leadership. This, the south said, had been in place since Lord Lugard soldered the southern and northern protectorates together in 1914. If you pore over the literature of pre-colonial Africa, you would see that Britain, egged on by its trade interests, unjustifiably brought the regions together. Alaafin Lamidi Adeyemi III – God rests his soul – once told me that his great grandfather, who reigned during this time, told the British that what they did with amalgamation was comparable to unfairly assembling lions, impala, goats, foxes and buffaloes inside the same pen.
Through the National Democratic Coalition’s (NADECO) activities and consistent blackmail of the northern military hegemons, in 1999, the south was able to get that atypical equation of two southerners being on the ballot box in the presidential election. Our fathers – Nubuisi Kanu, Bola Ige, Abraham Adesanya, Ayo Adebanjo and many others indeed — had the opportunity to write the constitutions of the PDP where they were its first tenant and the Alliance for Democracy (AD) where they eventually settled for. They had earlier fought strenuously to get the clause of rotation of power between the south and the north enshrined into the 1999 constitution as a cure for the malady of northern autocracy. Having failed to get this etched into national law, they effectively got it into the constitutions of the political parties under their watch. That is why, to date, the PDP has as its aims and objectives in article 7(g) the “promot(ion of) an egalitarian society founded on freedom, equality and justice” and in 3(c) “adhering to the policy of the rotation and zoning of the party and public elective offices in pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness”.
Former Vice President of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar, was a foundational member of the PDP and was a signatory to this constitution. Last week, the southern wing of the party, after a meeting in Port-Harcourt, announced it is pulling out of the presidential campaign team. In a bid to disclaim the move as self-serving, Abubakar issued a release hoisting himself as a firm believer in the rule of law. To my mind, there was no doubting the fact that the PDP presidential candidate was playing the ostrich, simplicita.
In a release he entitled ‘Let us join hands and move on with the task of nation building’, Abubakar said: “On the calls for the resignation or removal from office of our national chairman, however, I must reiterate what I have said severally in public and in private; the decision for Dr Iyorchia Ayu to resign from office is personal to Dr Ayu and, neither I nor anyone else can make that decision for him. As to the calls for the removal of Dr Ayu from office, however, I will state that, as a committed democrat and firm believer in the rule of law and democratic tenets, and our party being one set up, organized and regulated by law and our constitution, it is my absolute belief that everything that we do in our party must be done in accordance with, and conformity to, the law and our constitution”.
Atiku was dead wrong. First, a decision for Iyorchia Ayu to resign from the chairmanship of PDP isn’t personal to the Benue-born ex-senate president. The decision has, as its foundation, a moral imperative. It should have been driven by a moral consideration, rather than the meanness of a vulture. Moreover, the PDP as an institution is implicated in that selfish and self-centred decision too. Indeed, it is a slap on the PDP’s constitution. Reducing the decision, which the PDP unambiguously worded in its constitution, to a personal decision, is a slap on the face of the party. It is not only simplistic, it manifests as the usual attempt by hegemons to queue behind a finger in their usual play on emotion and the gallery.
With due respect to the PDP candidate, he cannot, in flagrant disobedience to the principle of equity, fairness and justice, on one hand, stomp upon the party’s constitution by abetting non-zoning of the office of the chairman, and in another breath, hoist that same disobedience up as the reason he won’t abide by it. It reminds me of Robert Thouless’ Straight And Crooked Thinking, a timeless and classical manual on how to use clear, rational thinking and logic to win arguments, no matter how emotionally charged the topic in question may be. Thouless is also an analysis of fallacies in arguments. Atiku’s escapism, albeit in a blanket of the kind of reasoning that Thouless disdains, can be likened to a young man accused of killing his father and mother. When the accused was sentenced to death and entered his allocutus, he pleaded that the court should be merciful to him as he was an orphan!
When Wike claimed that Atiku’s arrogance adrenaline is daily pumped up because some characters in Aso Rock were supporting him, a Fulani, to take over the Nigerian presidency from his Fulani kinsman in 2023, the arrogance of power is all that you see. It is the same arrogance that the All Progressives Congress (APC) is exhibiting by impudently picking its candidate and vice from the same religion. In both instances, the consistent core of justification of the actions of their barons is that the people do not matter.
At the root of the crisis rocking the two big parties is infidelity to Nigeria’s established codes of unity and fairness. The APC’s Muslim-Muslim ticket is violent opportunism which targets the famed multi-million Muslim votes of the north, in impudent disdain of the Christian community. PDP’s northern concave of a presidential ticket from the north, a party chairman from the north and other key officers of the babanriga-wearing extraction, is a subversion of its own constitution and impunity that damns the consequences of the southern rejection of marginalisation.
If Atiku Abubakar thinks less about subverting his party’s own constitution, he will subvert the will of the people he claims fires his zeal for office without batting an eyelid. This was the beginning of the Muhammadu Buhari disease that has become a pestilence in Nigeria today. If leaders fail in minuscule matters, it is an indication that faltering in major matters is fait accompli.
As I said earlier, traditional Africa’s take-away from the allegory of the Lion King and the Fox/Tortoise is that he is wise who is wary of and alerted by the misfortunes of others. If the PDP claims that its fascination with Aso Rock is to right the wrongs of the Buhari years and yet, this same political party wrongs rights of others within its own party with impunity, it should be a dis-advertisement to the electorate; a red flag, if you like. The Fox/Tortoise in that allegory was wise enough to see that the beasts who entered Lion’s den did not return alive. Southern Nigeria should deploy that same wisdom to interrogate why it is difficult for the “democrat” Atiku Abubakar to respect a common rule of equity and fairness.
I can see Ifeanyi Okowa excited that he will serve as an anchor for the south once PDP clinches power in 2023. He should spare some time to go receive tutorials from Yemi Osinbajo on how a huge pack of cards of hope can collapse in one’s very before under a principal with a shut tribal mind. Osinbajo should be one of the most frustrated human beings in Nigeria today. Okowa and all those who believe that all the injustices against the south in the PDP should be left till 2023 and be sorted out once Atiku becomes president, will have their hopes shattered once the Fulani assume power again. By then, they will realise that inside Atiku Abubakar’s vein runs that same blood of clan and tribe that made Buhari what he is.